“The pandemic has me lost for words,” he said. “Whoever thought they would see this day?”
His volunteer team also includes his wife Natasha Curtin and the kitchen staff for who cooking meals for frontline workers and local families has become a routine.
“The least I can do is to cook for them a good meal,” said Morrison. “Frontline workers are the people that stepped up to the plate when they were needed the most, and the sacrifices that they are making throughout the pandemic should never be forgotten. They worked days, nights, weeks, and months without thinking about themselves and without seeing their families.”
Morrison did not launch a fundraiser, but personally invested.
“I began feeding frontline workers at LIJ Forest Hills on one of the first Fridays of the pandemic,” he said. “They were so happy and enjoyed the food so much, that I told them I will be back every Friday to serve lunch. That's what I've been doing three months later. Now I call them my friends.”
After posting photos on Facebook, patrons approached him with an interest in donating, so nearly every week someone would assist with the costs.
“Joe Forgione of Cord Meyer Development Company said that they would like to help,” Morrison said. “We fed a firehouse in Woodside and 100 frontline workers at NewYork-Presbyterian Queens and LIJ Forest Hills.”
Morrison’s wife is a Forest Hills High School teacher.
“She brought it to my attention that many of her students and their families would be in need of food during these hard times, so we picked a few families that we thought we could help most and began delivering cooked dinners and other goodies,” he recalled. “Then one day it came up in conversation with one of her colleagues, and before we knew it all teachers in my wife’s department began donating money.”
For the past two months, they have delivered hot dinners and other foods to five families per week.
“You see on their faces that they are very thankful, and it makes you want to become a better person,” Morrison said. “When you see how affected people are, you wonder what this world is coming to, and what we can do to help fix it. If you are in a position to help someone, then do so.”
Austin Public opened in 2013.
“We felt that Forest Hills needed a local bar where you can relax and be yourself,” Morrison said. “We serve premium food and cocktails at a good price.”
Morrison, 41, is grateful for his parents Francis and Josephine, who live in Fermoy in County Cork, Ireland, where he immigrated from in 2001.
“They made me the man that I am today,” he said. “Growing up, we were always told to help people in any way we can. Being in the bar and restaurant business all my life, following in my father’s footsteps, you meet many people from all parts of the world. To hear their trials and tribulations and stories makes you want to be a better person.”
Morrison stressed the importance of small businesses, which are currently in dire straits.
“If you do not have mom-and-pop shops in the community, why would people want to visit or even live here?” he said. “They are a community’s backbone and employ many people.”
Morrison also collaborates with “Backpacks For The Street,” a nonprofit that helps the homeless population by providing backpacks filled with life necessities. The organization was founded by Forest Hills residents Jeffrey Newman and Jayson Conner.
“If I have seen anything in this pandemic, it is how people have stepped up to the plate and showed people what they are really about, from frontline workers to our neighbors,” he said. “Everyone needs to stand united and help people who may be less fortunate.”
Austin Public is currently open daily from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Orders can be placed by calling (718) 575-0070, or through Grubhub, Postmates, and Uber Eats. Curbside pickup is also available.